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'Worth every single tear': Austin mom turns fingerprints into jewelry line to honor late brother

Talla Kuperman created Love Talla, a jewelry line of pendants with loved one's fingerprints designed into them.

Talla Kuperman remembers the pain of losing her brother, Amir, 10 years ago. 

They were close, coming from Iran as refugees with their parents, first to Switzerland when she was 5 and then the United States just before her 9th birthday. 

Amir, who was two years older, was told he had two to three weeks left to live when at age 31 he was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. He lived another year and a half trying every treatment he could find. 

"We never gave up hope," Kuperman says.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and she saw the death toll going up and up every day, as reported on television news stations, "it really, really triggered my grief," she says. "I went to a dark place."

Talla Kuperman and her brother Amir were very close. He died in 2011 from stomach cancer.

The Austin mom was brought back to when Amir was so sick. She re-lived walking him into the hospital, the smell of antiseptic and telling him not to be afraid. 

Then she thought about the people who were hospitalized with COVID-19. They were not able to have their families with them, not able to have someone hold their hands when they went into the hospital. Some of them went into the hospital and never came out, she says.

She had a lingering thought: How can I still feel that physical connection with my brother? 

It turns out that funeral homes often give a piece of paper to families with their loved one's fingerprint on it.

"When you're ready, you could create remembrance items with them," she says. 

She opened the box that held the piece of paper with her brother's fingerprint. She remembers sitting on the closet floor and touching a piece of paper that her brother had touched and balling her eyes out, she says. 

She decided she wanted a necklace she could wear to feel closer to her brother. She searched for fingerprint products online and didn't feel that any were "worthy of his legacy," she says.

She wanted something that was heirloom quality, not kitschy or cute, that she could pass down to her daughter and say, "This is your uncle's fingerprint." 

"I knew other people would want that, too," she says.

Kuperman, 40, created Love Talla, a line of jewelry with a loved one's fingerprint on it. She went from stay-at-home mom to 2-year-old Lexi to selling necklaces online in about six months.

"I knew if I waited, I would never get the guts to do it," she says.

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Sterling silver is one option for Love Talla jewelry. Some pieces can have multiple fingerprints.

'They heard my story and decided to take a chance on me'

Coming from a biochemistry background and working in risk analysis for an insurance company, Kuperman says she's "super risk adverse."

"I knew nothing about the jewelry industry," she says, but "this was an idea that popped into my head that I became absolutely obsessed with to the point of being delusional." 

She describes her journey from idea to selling jewelry as "baptism by fire."

A friend who designs engagement rings listened to Kuperman's pitch and validated that it was a good idea. Her friend gave her a lot of advice and helped her network to find people who could connect her to a manufacturer.

Along the way, she told people the story of her brother and they were moved to work with her even though she wasn't established and couldn't guarantee a volume of business. 

A connection in Louisiana helped her find a couple who works out of Thailand to do the manufacturing. 

"They heard my story and decided to take a chance on me," she says. 

She took the money she earned after the sale of her home before she was married three years before and turned it into the seed money for the business. 

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Zach Kuperman grew up in Austin, and Talla Kuperman grew up in Southern California. "I loved the way he talked about his childhood," she says. The couple decided to move to Austin three years ago after Talla became pregnant with daughter Lexi and the couple thought about where they wanted to raise a family.

Love Talla now a reality

Now people can go to lovetalla.com  and get necklaces with prints of loved ones in the design. Her necklaces range from $170 to $1,100 depending on the material, which can be silver, gold or rose gold.

She is trying to keep prices in a range that doesn't price people out. "I want it to be available to bring that connection and that kind of joy to everyone," she says. 

Some pendants have one person's print on them. Her friendship line has room to put two friends' prints, one each on two sides of heart that breaks apart into two separate necklaces, or one on each set of butterfly wings that break apart to be shared.

The mother's collection offers two or three prints. Kuperman has had requests for bracelets that would provide additional prints for grandparents or for mothers with more children. People also have asked for earrings and pendants for men. Those are future project designs. 

Talla Kuperman knew nothing about the jewelry business when she started Love Talla, but she says she became obsessed with the idea once it popped into her head.

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Turning a print into metal

Love Talla offers instructions for how to submit a fingerprint. People can take a clearly lighted photo of a document if the print is from a person who has died. If the funeral home didn't provide that, a state's driver's license department sometimes will give it to families. Or if the loved one ever had anything notarized, that notary should have their fingerprint on file. 

For people who are alive, take a well-lighted photo of the finger tip. If you can zoom in and see the whirls and lines of the fingerprint in the photo, it can be translated into a vectored image that is used to create the design in silver or gold. 

For kids who are unlikely to sit still enough for a clear photo (like her own daughter), Kuperman offers instructions on her site for using a piece of white paper, a pencil and tape to lift a fingerprint.

Parents also have used the footprints and handprints that get made in the hospital when kids are born, and pet parents have collected paw prints and nose prints of their favorite animals. 

The Love design from Love Talla is 14 karate gold and diamonds and sells for $900. Each necklace is unique because of the fingerprint that was submitted.

An eye for security

The fingerprint that gets put onto the jewelry isn't an exact match worthy of a crime scene investigator. Instead it's a cleaned up version that is "aesthetically beautiful," Kuperman says.

Her insurance background made her pay special attention to security. She doesn't keep any of the fingerprint photos people send her. In fact, if people want to reorder the same print, they'll have to provide another photo. 

It takes three to four weeks to get a necklace made and sent to the recipient. 

Kuperman's personal collection started with a necklace of her brother's fingerprint and now includes one of her daughter's and her mother's. 

The Rise, which is part of Love Talla's fine jewelry collection, is 14 karat gold with diamonds and costs $1,100.

'It's worth every single tear'

Kuperman has been running the one-woman business while her daughter naps or at night, but she hopes to grow enough to hire employees. 

When Kuperman launched the line at the end of March, she doubled her goal of having $10,000 in sales in month one to more than $20,000, she says. 

She timed the launch weeks before Mother's Day and saw a bump from that.

After the success of Mother's Day, she says, "I realized this is important to people, and it has a place in this world."

What has surprised her the most about starting this business are the stories that she hears. "I didn't expect to actually become really close with my customers," Kuperman says.

They send her photos and write emails about their loved ones. She just had a woman who was in the process of losing her sister to colon cancer create pendants for her mother, herself, another sister and her dying sister's daughters.

That woman sent her a picture of her sister kissing her. "It looked so much like my brother," as he was dying, she says. "I wept. I know exactly how she feels." 

She says she has been "reliving his death since the moment I started this business." 

"It's an emotional roller coaster," she says, "but it has been worth it. It's worth every single tear."

The Sun and Moon from Love Talla is $199 and designed for prints of mother and child.